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The Importance of the Inspector In the Play.

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Introduction

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE INSPECTOR IN THE PLAY Birlings, he controls the development of events: who will speak and when; who may or may not leave; who will or will not see the photograph. He even Priestley describes the Inspector, when he first appears on stage, in terms of 'massiveness, solidity and purposefulness' (p.11), symbolizing the fact that he is an unstoppable force within the play. His 'disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before speaking' (p.11) gives the impression that he sees through surface appearances to the real person beneath. It also gives him a thoughtfulness that contrasts with the thoughtlessness of each character's treatment of the girl. His role in the play is not simply to confront each character with the truth, but to force each character to admit the truth they already know. He works methodically through the characters present one at a time, partly because he recognizes that 'otherwise, there's a muddle' (p.12), and partly because, given the chance, the characters are all quick to defend each other, or to call upon outside help (such as Colonel Roberts) in order to avoid accepting the truth of what he suggests. He arrives just after Birling has been setting out his views of life: that every man must only look out for himself. The Inspector's r��le is to show that this is not the case. ...read more.

Middle

than about how to put them right. He tries to use first Gerald's family name (p.13) and then his friendship with the Chief Constable (p.16) as ways of bullying the Inspector; he obviously believes that others are as easily impressed by social connections as he is. (We know he is easily impressed because of his evident pride at Gerald's family background; he obviously believes he has made a good match for Sheila.) His key characteristic is his complacency. He is well-off (as the opening stage directions suggest), and he believes he always will be: that 'we're in for a time of steadily increasing prosperity' (p.6). This success, however, has been at the expense of others - he threw the girl out of her job for asking for a modest rise, and intends in the future to work with Crofts Limited 'for lower costs and higher prices' (p.4), exploiting his power as a capitalist to profit at the expense of others. Birling does not believe he has a responsibility to society, only to his family: 'a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own' (p.10). He is not upset, unlike Eric, at hearing the details of the girl's death (p.12), which shows him to be a little heartless. He is suspiciously defensive when he thinks the Inspector is accusing him of causing it, and - like Mrs Birling - is relieved when he thinks the finger is no longer pointing at him. ...read more.

Conclusion

be willing or able to learn the lessons of the past, and so it is to the younger generation that Priestley hopefully looked instead... t, is not sympathetic to what this capitalist believes. He also undermines Birling's relationship with his family, the only institution that Birling believes matters. In Act Two, both his children - who learn from the Inspector in a way Birling never does - behave badly in front of him (pp.32-33), and his heir Eric is later revealed as both an alcoholic and a thief. After the Inspector has gone, Birling simply wants things to return to the way they were. He cannot understand Sheila's and Eric's insistence that there is something to be learnt, and he is relieved and triumphant when he feels that scandal has been avoided and everything is all right. Right up until the end, he claims that 'there's every excuse for what both your mother and I did - it turned out unfortunately, that's all' (p.57). Birling is not the cold and narrow-minded person that his wife is; he simply believes in what he says. He is a limited man, who is shown to be wrong about many things in the play; it is the Birlings of the world whom Priestley feared - in 1945 - would not be willing or able to learn the lessons of the past, and so it is to the younger generation that Priestley hopefully looked instead... ...read more.

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